Members and followers of Justice for Palestine will be aware that we, our allies in Alternative Jewish Voices and members of the Palestinian community in the Wellington region recently requested a meeting with Wellington mayor, Andy Foster. The meeting was to discuss his decision to overrule Councillor Tamatha Paul’s show of solidarity with the Palestinian people when she offered to have the Michael Fowler Centre lit up in the colours of the Palestinian flag to mark Nakba Day.
Mayor Foster’s decision was deeply offensive to the Palestinian community and created a storm of protest with many highlighting the fact that the Mayor had no qualms lighting up the Centre in the colours of the Ukranian flag (an action that we also support).
Now, Mayor Foster has decided to “politely decline” to meet with us (see his letter below). As the Dom Post reported, this is the same Mayor who, controversially, met twice with protesters camped on the lawns of Parliament for many days closing down parts of the city. His decision does not seem to us to adhere to the spirit of the Code of Conduct for elected officials in Wellington City Council that states:
“Effective council decision-making depends on productive relationships between elected members and the community at large. Members should ensure that individual citizens are accorded respect in their dealings with the council, have their concerns listened to, and deliberated on in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government Act 2002. Members should act in a manner that encourages and values community involvement in local democracy.”
Mayor Foster states that his decision was informed by a consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and that:
“…due to the complexity and sensitivities of this issue, it was my advice to WellingtonNZ, who are responsible for the lighting of the MFC, to not inflame the situation further by endorsing the position of one side over the other.”
That is an extraordinary statement. It reveals just how limited is the mayor’s understanding of the situation in Israel/Palestine and how problematic the stance of MFAT is. MFAT’s advice comes at a time when the whole world is reeling from the slaughter of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh. It comes at a time when there is growing consensus amongst human rights organisations, both inside and outside Israel, that Israel meets the definition in international law of an apartheid state. Not to mention the broadly agreed positions of the United Nation’s that the Palestinian people have been subject to an illegal military occupation for the last 74 years, have had their lands stolen and settled illegally and have their human rights breached daily, including the military detention of hundreds of Palestinian children each year.
There is nothing complex about a brutal and illegal military occupation and it is not insensitive to either “side” to assert international law. The truth is that this portrayal of the Israel/Palestine issue as complex and sensitive, and the argument that to support one party would “inflame the situation” is a stance that privileges the side of the oppressor. Israel and its lobbyists will appreciate the Mayor’s silencing of solidarity and his refusal to hear the voices of Palestinian people and their allies. The Mayor’s attempt at finding a neutral position is impossible. We are reminded of the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.Archbishop Desmond Tutu
We urge all of our members and supporters to let the Mayor know your views on his refusal to meet with us. Since this action brings the whole City Council into disrepute, we also ask you to raise this matter with your local councillor. Finally, let us make sure that, in the upcoming electoral hustings, all council candidates, especially mayoral candidates, are clear that neutrality is not an option when it comes to Palestinian human rights.